Johnny

This is the 900 th article I have written on this films of the fifties site, so I have chosen someone extremely well known and popular as the subject – and someone who requires no introduction to film fans the World over

It would have been Johnny’s Birthday a few days ago on June 2 nd

Here he is Rumanian-born American Olympic gold medallist, competition swimmer, water polo player and actor Johnny Weissmuller on his birthday (June 2, 1904 – January 20, 1984),

Much better known for his roles as Tarzan (1932-1948) and Jungle Jim (1948-1958).

ABOVE – In his most famous role

What a life he had – a swimming World Champion who made the transition to films very successfully indeed with the big budget Tarzan films for MGM – and they were big budget and very well made.

Johnny with Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs

The next step was when RKO Radio released the next tranche but these, although very good and very watchable were nowhere near as good.

ABOVE – A lovely colour picture of Johnny with a new – and very good Jane – Brenda Joyce

When Johnny got too old he simply got dressed but didn’t retire from the jungle escapades – instead he became Jungle Jim in a series of cinema release films before playing the same role on Television for quite a few years. These were shown in England in the 50s and were very popular.

In his spare time, apart from getting married quite a few times, he played a lot of golf.

A Biography of Johnny – I must try to acquire this book

In 1954, MGM re-released his first two films to great success; a whole new generation now saw him in his prime on the big screen. In fact, most of the 12 Weissmuller Tarzan movies were re-released in theaters worldwide over the years.

And then the television era ushered in five more decades of widespread international viewing of those Weissmuller films, which are among the most broadcasted movies of all time.

By 1957, Weissmuller had retired from acting and went on to partner in various business ventures. In great shape in midlife, Johnny also continued to bring his popularity directly to his fans via water shows throughout the 1950’s.

ABOVE with a young lady and another former Tarzan Buster Crabbe

He also travelled the world doing charity work throughout his life, always willing to lend his fame for a good cause when asked. He helped to open and fundraise for children’s hospitals in places like Istanbul and Madrid. One of his pet charities was the Special Olympics, and to that end in 1976 he donated all of his Olympic medals and many trophies to the Joseph P. Kennedy Foundation for disabled children, to be used in fundraising exhibitions. (They are now housed at the International Swimming Hall of Fame museum.)

Johnny Weissmuller meets The Queen at the 1966 Commonwealth Games

He is so obviously impressed and overawed – and maybe The Queen really enjoyed meeting Tarzan – Johnny Weissmuller

When he died, Johnny Weissmuller was one of the very few non-heads of state ever to be afforded a 21-gun salute, at his memorial service at Good Shepherd church in Beverly Hills. Arranged by Senator Kennedy and President Reagan, it was a singular honour for a man who was a true American icon. Concurrent memorial masses were also held at St Michael’s in Chicago (where he had been an altar boy), St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC, and the Vatican in Rome.

Though he had endured many trials and tribulations in his life – growing up in a poor immigrant family with an abusive father, the untimely death of his teenage daughter Heidi and suicide of his beloved Lupe, financial ruin caused by his unscrupulous business manager of 25 years and his own debilitating series of strokes that rendered him so physically disabled the last few years of his life – Johnny was always happy-go- lucky, down to earth and considerate with everyone who crossed his path. And his legendary sense of humor, generosity and accessibility to his fans made him all the more beloved.

As good friend and former TV Tarzan Ron Ely said recently in a filmed interview:

“If you talk about Johnny Weissmuller, you can only say positive things. He was a positive person, and didn’t show his troubles on the outside. He had a lot of friends; everyone loved him. I didn’t know anyone to ever make the tiniest negative comment about Johnny..

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So Little Time

This is a very good film but one which, for whatever reason, did not do well at the Box Office. It has been shown recently on Talking Pictures and is recommended viewing.

It is a World War II film set in occupied Belgium which has an unusual plot for the time – about a good German officer, Colonel von Hohensee played by Marius Goring, who is appointed Military Governor of Brussels, and falls in love with a Belgian girl, Nicole ( Maria Schell). After a time, Nicole is approached by the Resistance movement and told to steal some documents from Colonel Hohensee

ABOVE – Barbara Mullen being questioned by a German Soldier

Above – That same scene

Without a doubt one of Maria Schell’s greatest roles.

ABOVE with Marius Goring

This film was a personal favourite of Marius Goring who had these words to say – ‘A touching little film . . . Maria Schell was beautiful and extremely good. It was too soon after the war and people still thought every German was a horror. A year later, and it would have been all right.’

Marius Goring was also great in his role – it was an uncharacteristic part for him.

These stills are obviously in Colour – but the film was not

They share a love of music

A Film well worth seeking out – Two actors at the top of their game here with a good and strong supporting cast



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Over The Garden Wall – Norman Evans 1950

Hugely popular, the Lancashire comedian Norman Evans brings his style and comedy act to this film, the title of which was the same as his radio show and his sketches where he used to tell his jokes in a gossipy, inquisitive neighbour style leaning over the garden wall to face the audience – Les Dawson copied this style when he appeared along with Roy Barraclough as Cissy and Ada in his Television Shows

Over the Garden Wall – Norman Evans and Jimmy James

A working class couple are planning to give their only daughter and new GI son-in-law a right Northern welcome. But trouble starts to flare when a young man flirts with their daughter! Jimmy James is often hailed as the ‘comedian’s comedian’. He developed one of the funniest stage routines in variety history and was an inspiration to his fellow comedians. Norman Evans will forever be remembered for his toothless northern housewife character, Fanny Fairbrother, which influenced the young Les Dawson.

Cast In Alphabetical Order Agnes Bernelle as Val Westwood Alec Pleon as Alec Dan Young as Dan Frederick Bradshaw as Ken Smith Jimmy James as Joe Lawton John Wynn as Tony Harrison Neville Brook as Mr. Smith Norman Evans as Fanny Lawton Sonya O’Shea as Mary Harrison Crew

Directed by John E. Blakeley Written by John E. Blakeley & Harry Jackson Produced by John E. Blakeley

Released 1950 Runtime 94 Minutes

Johnny Blakeley ‘Mancunian Films’ – I remember Michael Parkinson having Peter Sellers on his show who I have to say was one of the very best guests he ever had, and they were both real film fans and they both mentioned Johnny Blakeley and Mancunian Films which they both seemed to remember with great affection.

As Peter Sellers said Johnny Blakeley was not swayed by the critics or by sending a message, he just made films that people wanted to see

John E. Blakeley is the man responsible for the start of the film career of George Formby as well has many other famous northern variety artists. Although Formby’s first two films were produced in London studios, Blakeley is remembered mainly for the film studio he build in Manchester.

He was born in 1889 and was from a family of cinema owners and film renters in the North West.

Together with other film and theatre owners, he formed a company called Mancunian Films.

Around 25 films were produced over the next 20 years and were distributed through a company called Butchers Films.

Initially he travelled to London to produce his films, renting studios like Riverside at Hammersmith, George Formby’s first films are known to have been filmed at Albany Studios.

Film, Camera, Action

By the end of the Second World War John E. Blakeley’s slapstick comedies were extremely popular in the North of England. Mancunian Films had taken some of the most popular music hall acts from the north and turned them into stars.

These acts included Formby, Frank Randle, Dan Young, Norman Evans, Duggie Wakefield and many more.

After 1945 there was a boom in film production and the cost of studio time in London increased dramatically, John E. Blakeley along with his sons and colleagues decided it was time to take film production home to Manchester. An old Wesleyan Church on Dickenson Road, Rusholme was bought, converted and equipped for £70,000. This became Film Studios (Manchester), the first feature film studio outside London in the post war years. On the 12th May 1947 the studio was formally opened amid a sprinkling of stars and excitement from local residents. The ceremony was attended by George Formby, Dan Young, Frank Randle, Norman Evans and Sandy Powell and George Formby and Sandy Powell made speeches wishing the studios well for the future. Film Studios (Manchester) wasted no time and started work straight away producing a whole string of low budget ‘B’ movies. The surrounding areas of Dickenson and Wilmslow Road was used as a backdrop to many a Mancunian film, as were the local people in crowd or street scenes. Local residents often lent their possessions to the props department who came to beg and borrow to fill up the set.

‘Cup Tie Honeymoon’ was the first film to be made at the studio, starring Sandy Powell, Dan Young, Betty Jumel and Pat Pilkington (later Pat Phoenix, Coronation Street’s Elsie Tanner).

The film, based around the theme of football with scenes shot at Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium, was released to coincide with the beginning of the 1948 football season.

‘The International Circus Revue’ was the next release in 1948. This film featured a local circus troupe from Manchester’s Belle Vue amusements and starred Sonny Burke and Bernard Youens (later Coronation Street’s Stan Ogden).

The International Circus Revue was made using footage from a documentary shot by Mancunian called The Showground of the North, released in 1949. The Showground of the North was a travelogue of Belle Vue’s Zoological Gardens, circus and amusements. This was John E. Blakeley’s only departure from comedy during his career.

During the early 1950’s Tom Blakeley was producer for Mancunian Films. He worked with outside directors on productions such as Never Look Back and Love’s a Luxury (1952), Those People Next Door and Lonely Weekend (1953).

Diana Dors and Frank Randle

‘It’s A Grand Life’ (1953) was John E. Blakeley’s 22nd and final feature film at the age of 64 and also Frank Randle’s last film before he died of consumption in 1957. This movie brought together Frank with the 22 year old blonde bombshell, Diana Dors, who was already in her 14th film.

The title of this film must surely reflect the quality of the life which John E. Blakeley shared with the workers and stars of Manchester ’s little Hollywood.

Diana Dors could hold her own in any company and with any actor – she was never overawedonly three years later she was co-starring with Victor Mature in the classic ‘The Long Haul’

By the mid 50’s the cost of film production had increased whilst the advent of television caused cinema audiences to decline. In 1954 Film Studios (Manchester) was sold to the BBC and the church became the first studio to broadcast outside London in the fifties. Eventually the studio was demolished in 1967.

Through his efforts – and those of his fellow director, the box-office money-spinning Lancashire comedian, Frank Randle – this country now has a memory bank of all those wonderful artistes, who, but for Johnny Blakeley and Frank, would have been lost and forgotten, forever.

Frank Randle himself made upwards of 10 record-breaking comedies at Mancunian, and working alongside him were stars like the Irish tenor, Josef Locke; Sandy Powell; Duggie Wakefield; the diminutive ‘boy’ comic Jimmy Clitheroe; Hilda Baker; Jimmy Jewel & Ben Warriss; Tessie O’Shea; Harry Korris, Bobby (Enoch) Vincent, of the BBC Home Service, ‘Happidrome’ programme; Jimmy James and Ely Woods; Norman (‘Over The Garden Wall’) Evans; Gladys Morgan, Betty Jumel, Nat Jackley, Gus Aubrey, the black pianist, Winifred Atwell; Anne Ziegler & Webster Booth, the radio singing group, ‘The Kordites’, and a host of other stars, mainly recruited from all the top theatre venues in Blackpool and along the Fylde Coast…not to mention every provincial Variety theatre, within a 50-mile radius of All Saints.

I have to say that in writing this article – which seemed to interest me more as I got into it – I have taken a lot of it from another site about Mancunian Films

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Move Memories – The 100th Edition

Again, what a great day it is when the postman delivers this very welcome magazine – it means hours of interesting reading ahead and with all the older editions I have, it is so easy to keep going back and re-reading them and always finding another little snippet or piece of news or Hollywood gossip of the time.

ABOVE – The Front Cover of this Magazine with Yul Brynner and BELOW Chris Roberts introduction to this month’s magazine – and some details about Yul.

Chris Roberts has decided to cease production of this great magazine at the end of this current year which is a very sad day for us all. The quality of this magazine is right out of the top drawer and the articles he does are so interesting and then the contributions of the many readers who write in with information about the stars – quite often their own experience when they have met them. Fascinating and there are always surprises when these revelations come along

This Magazine has been Chris Roberts’ ‘baby’ really and I imagine it will be a huge wrench for him to bring it to a close – but lets not forget the magnificent contribution he has made to the film industry of that era – which has been helped in recent years by the phenomenal success of ‘Talking Pictures’ the TV Channel we all love.

Chris has not enjoyed the best of health recently but I understand that he is ok now – but I know that we all wish him well whatever he now chooses to do

I have copied below his introduction to his 100th Edition :-

It must be said, that we at Filmsofthefifties do not have any connection with this magazine other than being great fans of it

ABOVE – Inside the magazines a gentleman wrote about his correspondence with Robert Cummings – and told us about him receiving this picture after writing to the star, saying that ‘Kings Row’ was his favourite – it was also Robert Cummings own favourite of the films he made.

I would, though, myself lean towards his role in ‘ Saboteur’ for Alfred Hitchcock – an article on which I wrote on this blog earlier this month. That would be my own favourite Robert Cummings film

The back cover has this – ‘Carry on Spying’. In my view not one of the best of the Carry On films of which I am a great fan

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James Stewart – Wartime in Norfolk, England

James Stewart was the first film star to enter the service for World War II, joining a year before Pearl Harbour was bombed.

He was initially refused entry into the Air Force because he weighed 5 pounds less than the required 148 pounds, but he talked the recruitment officer into ignoring the test. He eventually became a Colonel (active duty) and then Brigadier General in the United States Air Force Reserve, and earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and 7 battle stars. In 1959, he served in the Air Force Reserve, before retiring as a brigadier general. (Walter Matthau was a sergeant in his unit).Despite having been a decorated war hero in World War II, he declined to talk about this, in part because of the traumatic experiences he had in killing others and watching friends die.

After the War James Stewart tended to steer clear of those Hollywood war films, explaining that they were hardly ever accurate. During his career, he only starred in two war films quite a a while after the War ended – “Strategic Air Command” (1955) and “The Mountain Road” (1960).

Col. Ramsey Potts (above, left in photo) presents the
Distinguished Flying Cross to Maj. James Stewart for
extraordinary achievement while serving as deputy leader
of a combat wing on a bombing mission to Brunswick,
Germany, Feb. 20, 1944.


James Stewart was interested in aviation as a child, he had taken his first flight while still in Indiana from one of the
barnstorming pilots that used to travel the Midwest.  As a successful actor in 1935 Jimmy was
able to afford flying lessons.  He received his civilian pilot’s license in 1935, and bought his first
airplane.  In 1938 he obtained his commercial pilot’s licence.  He often flew cross country to
visit his parents in Pennsylvania, navigating by the railroad tracks.

In the military, he was to make extensive use of his civilian pilot’s training.  In March 1941 at age
32, he reported for duty as Private James Stewart at Fort McArthur and was assigned to the
Army Air Corps at Moffett Field.  To comply with the regulations of the Air Corps proficiency
board, Stewart required additional 100 flying hours and bought them at a nearby field, at his
own expense.  He then took and passed a very stiff proficiency board examination.

In January 1942 Stewart was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was then sent to Mather
Field in California as a four engine instructor, this included both the B-17 and B-24 heavy
bombers.  Much to his dismay, Stewart stayed stateside for almost two years working as a flight
instructor, until commanding officers finally yielded to his request to be sent overseas.  
In November 1943, now a Captain and Operations Officer for the 703rd Bomb Squadron, 445th
Bombardment Group of the Eighth Air Force, he arrived in Tibenham, in Norfolk, England.  In March of
1944 he was transferred to the 453rd Bombardment Group at Old Buckenham (Old Buc) quite near to Tibenham 
Throughout his combat career, James Stewart flew as lead pilot in B-24 Liberators.   

Stewart’s war record included 20 combat missions as command pilot over enemy territory,
including raids deep into Germany to Berlin.  He didn’t fly the milk runs, and his missions
included bombing raids to Berlin, Brunswick, Bremen, Frankfurt, and Schweinfurt.  His most
memorable mission, Stewart served as the flight leader of a 1000 plain raid to Berlin.  He was
awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross with two Oak Leaf Clusters, the Air Medal with three
Oak Leaf Clusters, and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm.

By the end of the war he had risen to the rank of Colonel.  After the war he remained with the
US Air Force Reserves and was eventually promoted to Brigadier General in 1959.  In 1966, he
participated in a bombing strike in Vietnam, as an observer on a B-52 bomber.  He retired from
the Air Force in 1968 and received the Distinguished Service Medal and ultimately, the
Presidential Medal of Freedom.

James Stewart returned to Tibenham in Norfolk in the summer of 1975 – this is a recollection written by someone who was there at the time :-

A Time When James Returned to Norfolk!
James Stewart (WW2)
James Stewart (1975 Visit to Tibenham)2
James Stewart (1975 Visit to Tibenham_Daily Mail)
James Stewart, the famous Hollywood actor, seen here on a visit to the old US airbase at Tibenham, Norfolk, England in June 1975 – he was stationed there during the Second World War as a pilot.
James Stewart (1975_Glider Flight)
James Stewart (LIbrary_ 1975_EDP)
James Stewart (Norwood Rooms)

James Stewart’s visit to Tibenham in 1975:

“…….In early June, 1975, I took a phone call from a [Tibenham] gliding club member who told me that film star James Stewart was planning a private visit to the base – a members’ only job, apparently; very hush-hush; no fans; no Press! But if I didn’t let on how I knew, kept in the background, and didn’t wave a notebook about, then I might be able to pass muster as a club member.James Stewart.
Believed to be on the Control Tower of the old US airbase at Tibenham, Norfolk. Image: Courtesy of the 2nd Air Division Memorial Library Collection and EDP.

However, James Stewart’s visit was not a total surprise because during the Second World War he had been based at Tibenham (and elsewhere), from where he flew 20 bomber missions. He was a genuine war hero, and now, thirty years and many films later, he was appearing in the stage play ‘Harvey’ in London, and was simply taking advantage of a day off. Though it was not known at the time, he had also planned to do a photoshoot with Terry Fincher for the Daily Express.

James Stewart (1970's Theatre Poster_Vinterior Co)

On the day in question I did my best to melt into the background and became a quiet bystander as James toured the base and the ruined control tower, and gazed at the runway. He clearly found it all very affecting. When they offered him a towed glider flight to RAF Coltishall and back, he jumped at the chance, and happily squeezed his lanky frame into the tiny cockpit. While he was away ….. I withdrew for a pub lunch.

Back at Tibenham again, Mr Stewart was ushered into the clubroom for sandwiches and coffee, where he looked at more memorabilia and chatted freely with everyone. Every so often his gentle drawl, ‘ahhh, well,’ and ‘kinda’ and ‘sorta’ could be heard across the crowded room. Relaxed and affable, he was in his element.

James Stewart (1975 Visit to Tibenham_Fincher)3
James Stewart looking along the old runway of the former U.S. air base at Tibenham, and from where he took off on some 20 combat missions during World War Two. It was here that he served with distinction. Photo: Terry Fincher © The Fincher Files.2013

I was sitting in a corner munching sandwiches when James Stewart’s agent came across. ‘He knows who you are,’ he said. ‘He knows you’re a local journalist.’ I envisaged a firing squad. ‘Would you like to meet him?’ Yes, please!

Then James Stewart came across and sat down beside me, balancing a cup and saucer on his knee, and we talked for ten minutes. Deliberately, I ignored my notebook and later on had to struggle to remember some of the quotes. But in a way I was glad. It was not an interview, it was a neighbourly chat, freely offered and entered into.James Stewart at the derelict U.S. air base at Tibenham in June 1975. In the background, the former Control Tower where it is believed the above image of him, sitting on its rail during the war, was taken. Photo: © As on the above image.

James Stewart was like that. Aimable, interested, and at ease. He talked about Tibenham and how tough he had found it to remember his way around the base. ‘The only thing I can really orientate on is the control tower,’ he said. He talked about his glider flight, and I asked if he had taken the controls. ‘Sure I flew it. Sure I did.’ And then he talked about Norfolk and Norwich and how he hoped one day to visit the city’s American Memorial Library. Then his agent came back, and Stewart rose, shook hands, and wandered back towards the sandwiches.James Stewart being prepared for his glider flight to Coltishall and back in 1975 –‘”Sure I flew it. Sure I did.” 

James Stewart visits Norwich and the Norwood Rooms:
“Having revisited his War-time Norfolk air base at Tibenham in 1975, Hollywood film star James Stewart kept his word and joined in with two or three of the subsequent 2nd Air Division reunions. But he did not come back to England as a visiting ‘celeb,’ but as an ordinary ex-flyer, one of the boys. He stayed with his mates in the same hotels, travelled with them by coach as they did the rounds of once-familiar locations, and remained as anonymous as possible within the group. They all liked him for that.The former Norwich Central Library in which the American Memorial Library was located.

One of his more formal appearances was on the day he and his group went to see the former American Memorial Library – later severely damaged by fire, and replaced by a new Memorial tribute in the Forum – which at the time was housed at the old City library. Here he did pose for photographs, and behaved as a visiting dignitary would in a public role.

I have no doubt, however, that he had his ‘anonymous’ role firmly in mind when he and his colleagues, on another of their four-yearly visits, went to the former Norwood Rooms in Aylsham Road, Norwich – a popular dancing and dining venue at the time – for a veterans’ banquet. My wife and I were also invited, and we saw what happened.The former Norwood Rooms, Norwich in which James Stewart made an appearance.

First, he did not sit with the brass and bigwigs on the top table. He stayed at his table on the floor of the hall surrounded by his pals. And second, he was a very reluctant speaker.

When he was finally persuaded to clamber on to the band platform to say a few words, he thanked everyone, including the people of Norfolk, for the welcome they gave the Americans during the War, and he told the story of the powdered eggs. Apparently powdered eggs were the staple breakfast diet in the officers’ mess at Tibenham, and Stewart became heartily sick of them. On other days, however, they were fed fresh farm eggs straight from a local farm. Unfortunately, those were the days on which a bombing mission was scheduled. So that was how they knew what was happening. Dried eggs, and they had their feet on the ground a little longer. Fresh eggs, and it was bombs away!

James Stewart (Glenn_miller_story_Wikipedia)

Later the same evening there occurred one of those rare, unrehearsed and unexpected events that invariably stick in the memory. The band was playing some Glenn Miller favourites, which got the veterans whistling and cheering. It was particularly apt because the film, The Glenn Miller Story, starring James Stewart as Miller, was still doing the rounds. The band leader beckoned to James Stewart and invited him to take over the conducting role. Stewart shook his head. Then the audience started clapping and shouting, and he reluctantly clambered back on to the stage and led the band through an admittedly slowish version of Moonlight Serenade. It brought the house down.

288-2

Some years’ later, our local morning newspaper began a scheme promoting plaques to be fixed to buildings where famous people had appeared. Most of those erected, it seemed to me, related to 1960s and 1970s pop groups. There was nothing to remind passers-by, for example, that Count Basie and his band once appeared at the old Samson & Hercules dance hall in Tombland, Norwich.

Or that at the old Norwood Rooms a famous Hollywood film star once clambered on to the stage, borrowed the resident band, and reprised a tiny piece of one of his best-known film roles.

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What a film location – The Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland

Eilean Donan Castle is one of Scotland’s most iconic images and is recognised around the world.

Located on an island where three lochs meet, Eilean Donan Castle is surrounded by breathtaking scenery and was built during the mid-13th century when it guarded the land of Kintail. Four different renderings of the castle have been constructed and reconstructed since then as the feudal history of Scotland emerged over centuries.

Some people say Eilean Donan is Scotland’s most beautiful and famous castle and it has appeared in many films, including Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948), The Master of Ballantree (1953), The New Avengers (1976), Highlander (1986), Loch Ness (1996), Entrapment (1999) and James Bond – The World is Not Enough (1999).

I also think that Prince Valinat 1954 had some shots done here although it was mainly a Hollywood Film

There are many reasons why Eilean Donan Castle enjoys such an iconic and romantic status in the hearts of both the nation and its visitors, however to truly understand the magic of this breathtaking historical attractions, it is best to pay a visit there

During the 1719 Jacobite uprising Eilean Donan Castle was partially destroyed and lay in ruins for almost 200 years until the island was bought in 1911 by Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap who restored the castle over 20 years, reopening it in 1932.

Eilean Donan is a picturesque 13th century castle which traditionally features on many Scottish calendars and postcards. It lies on a small island of the same name, at the junction of Loch AlshLoch Duich and Loch Long in the Skye and Lochalsh district of Highland Council Area.

I always think that this castle would be a ‘must’ for makers of swashbuckling films particularly of that era, but then again taking those big Technicolor Cameras up into the Highlands along with crew etc would have been a task.

If such a film was mainly made in Hollywood then the producers would have a distance problem to cope with on top of this – so they tended to build big sets outdoors in the Californian countryside – such as this one for Columbia – Larry Parks in ‘The Swordsman’ made in Colour in 1948.

They certainly made a good job of it

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The Champions

This very successful TV series from the 1960s – The Champions.

Alexandra Bastedo, found fame and sex-symbol status playing the secret agent and scientist Sharron Macready and appeared with William Gaunt as Richard Barrett and Stuart Damon as Craig Stirling in the show about three agents working for the Geneva-based law-enforcement organisation Nemesis who gain superhuman powers after being rescued from a plane crash in Tibet by a mysterious lost tribe. With computer-like intelligence and Olympian levels of strength and endurance, they can communicate by telepathy and are assigned to cases where world stability is under threat.

It was one of the globally successful series made by the television mogul Lew Grade’s international production and distribution company ITC. Alexandra Bastedo described her character as a “gutsy girl before her time”.

ABOVE – an action scene with Stuart Damon and Alexandra Bastedo

The Three agents listening intently ABOVE

ABOVE: Alexandra Bastedo looks very cool in what looks a tricky situation

ABOVE – Alexandra Bastedo in a dramatic scene. After her ac ting career came to a close she devoted her time and energy to an Animals Refuge in Sussex which gave her great delight and satisfaction along with a great deal of work. Then again, it was a labour of love for her

William Gaunt seems to have been in so much on Television and on the stage – from Midsomer Murders to Shakespeare, but to me his vest remembered role must have been in The Champions but that could equally well be said of both Stuart Damon and Alexandra Bastedo

The Champions, which began a screening on Talking Pictures TV from Sunday (7 March 2021) – it is a gloriously enjoyable example of the work of the ITC production company.

The Champions offers 30 episodes of beautifully stylish television that plays to all the ITC strengths. It was comfortably, not lavishly, budgeted, but never allowed financial restraints to stop the action taking place all around the world, while the cast and crew rarely strayed far from Elstree Studios in sunny Hertfordshire.

The three lead actors add to the gloss. Square-jawed Broadway star Stuart Damon plays Craig Stirling, piercingly blue-eyed William Gaunt is Richard Barrett, and as Sharron Macready, the luminously beautiful Alexandra Bastedo is perhaps the best-remembered of the trio.

The first episode, was entitled ‘The Beginning’ and it establishes the background to the series

While escaping from a mission in China, our heroes’ plane is hit by gunfire and crashes in the Himalayas – – a good bit of ‘Lost Horizon’ in there I would say. Craig, Sharron, and Richard appear to be done for – but this is Tibet in the 1960s. So of course there’s a lost city, whose friendly inhabitants don’t just repair the bodies of the agents but bestow them with superpowers.-

That more or less sets the scene for the rest of the series.

Back at the Geneva base of their organisation Nemesis boss Tremayne waits anxiously for news of his missing agents. He’s played by the fourth regular cast member, Anthony Nicholls

While the beginning of ‘The Beginning’ is occupied with setting up the premise, the second half gives an idea of future missions. 007-style MacGuffins, breezy wit, a dash of sometimes quite blunt violence, and those super-handy superpowers are all present and correct.

Felix Aylmer and William Gaunt in ‘The Champions’
This is very much like Robert Conway meeting The High Lama in ‘Lost Horizon’

Another element of every episode of The Champions that will warm the hearts of fans of the TV of this period is the wonderful array of actors filling the supporting roles. Here we have Felix Aylmer as the wise old lama, Burt Kwouk as the commander of the Chinese troops, and Joseph Furst shouting at (and over) Tremayne. Later episodes will give us such familiar faces as Nicholas Courtney, Bernard Lee, Caroline Blakiston, Roger Delgado, Anthony Ainley, Kate O’Mara, and some surprises

The lovely Alexandra Bastedo

So if you want to escape for an hour or so, travel back to the Sixties with The Champions. This is a beautifully-made series; straightforward storytelling mixed with a note of fantasy and presented with the most exquisite design choices the budget will allow and in COLOUR too. In terms of sound and vision, The Champions is a gorgeously attractive TV show. Well done Talking Pictures TV for showing this again

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Norman Lloyd – Saboteur

Norman Lloyd, who has died aged 106, is to me anyway, best remembered for that final tussle with Robert Cummings at the top of the torch on the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbour in Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Saboteur’ – that was brilliantly done and, not having a good head for heights, even now I can hardly watch it.

During his long career, he had the privilege of working as an actor, director and producer with such towering figures as Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Renoir and Charlie Chaplin who also became his close friends.

Norman Lloyd never made a film with Orson Welles, he took part in two of the revolutionary stage productions by the “boy wonder”. Welles was a mere 21 when he and John Houseman formed the Mercury theatre in New York in 1937, and Lloyd was part of that famous company.

“We used to joke about Hollywood,” Norman Lloyd said. “We swore we would never make films. Orson and the others were very vocal, so I thought they meant it.” But, in 1939, Lloyd was cast in Heart Of Darkness, which was to have been Welles’s first film until the project was aborted after six weeks. Three years later, Lloyd was brought to Hollywood to play the title role (albeit a small part) in Hitchcock’s Saboteur (1942).

The most memorable sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur, 1942, is when Norman Lloyd, playing a Nazi agent, left, slips from the Statue of Liberty despite the hero, Robert Cummings, catching him by the coat sleeve.
The most memorable sequence in Alfred Hitchcock’s Saboteur, 1942, is when Norman Lloyd, left, playing a Nazi agent, slips from the Statue of Liberty despite the hero, Robert Cummings, catching him by the coat sleeve. 

The most memorable sequence in this typical Hitchcock film was the climactic scene at the top the Statue of Liberty where the hero (Robert Cummings), catches up with Lloyd, a snivelling and slithery Nazi agent. They struggle on Liberty’s outstretched arm, when Lloyd slips and is about to fall from the statue. Cummings catches him by his coat sleeve, but the sleeve starts to tear at the shoulder, and he plunges to his death. “

Alfred Hitchcock told me I should have had a better tailor,” Norman Lloyd later recalled.

Norman Lloyd clings on – in ‘Saboteur’

ABOVE – Two shots of Norman Lloyd with Priscilla Lane up in he face of the Statue of Liberty before he climbs up to the torch at the top

Norman Lloyd as Fry – with the Statue of Liberty in the background as they sail on the ferry towards it

He was born Norman Perlmutter in Jersey City, New Jersey, to Max Perlmutter, an accountant who later ran a furniture store, and Sadie (nee Horowitz), a bookkeeper, he grew up in Brooklyn, New York. He had performed as a child, but began his acting career in earnest, aged just 17

Following Saboteur, Norman Lloyd began a long association and friendship with “Hitch”. He acted in five films in 1945 for various studios, including Hitchcock’s ‘Spellbound’, in which he was a psychiatric patient. Among the others were Lewis Milestone’s second world war drama ‘A Walk In the Sun’, in which he portrayed a cynical private soldier who feels that the war will last for ever with or without him, and Renoir’s The Southerner, in which he played a vindictive neighbour of a farmer.

Norman Lloyd, Sydney Chaplin Jr (at the piano) and Clare Bloom in a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, 1952
Norman Lloyd, left, Sydney Chaplin and Claire Bloom in a scene from Charlie Chaplin’s Limelight, 1952. Photograph: Kurt Hutton/Getty Images

He played a troubadour in The Flame and the Arrow (1950) a very successful film at the Box Office

Norman Lloyd – ‘The Flame and the Arrow’

However, at the end of 1950, Lloyd had a rare chance to reveal his acting ability playing the Fool to Louis Calhern’s King Lear on Broadway, directed by Houseman.

Returning to films, he played the short-lived gangster pal of John Garfield in John Berry’s He Ran All the Way (1951); a lowlife in M (1951), Joseph Losey’s Americanised remake of the 30s Fritz Lang classic, and a stage manager (with an English accent) in Chaplin’s Limelight (1952).

Norman Lloyd as the genial Dr Auschlander in the long-running 1980s TV show St Elsewhere.
Norman Lloyd as the genial Dr Auschlander in the long-running 1980s TV show St Elsewhere. Photograph: NBC Universal/Getty Images

Unfortunately, because of his close association with a number of victims of the McCarthy witch hunts Norman Lloyd was placed on a blacklist and was then no longer hired by Hollywood executives.

It was Hitchcock who rescued him in 1955 by making him associate producer and a director on the long-running TV series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. In the course of his eight years on the series, Norman Lloyd became a co-producer (with Joan Harrison, Hitchcock’s “right arm”) and then executive producer.

He continued directing and producing TV series, including Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected, while also appearing in dozens of TV dramas. His longest-running performance was in the 80s hospital series St Elsewhere, as the genial Dr Daniel Auschlander, terminally cancer stricken, but still dedicated to his profession.

Norman Lloyd’s reincarnation in films after more than 20 years was appropriately in Robert Wise’s Audrey Rose (1977), an unlikely tale of the reincarnation of a young girl. Other roles included the stern headteacher in Dead Poets Society (1989) and a wealthy patriarch in Martin Scorsese’s The Age Of Innocence (1993). More recently, he appeared in In Her Shoes (2005), starring Cameron Diaz and Shirley MacLaine, and, aged 100, Judd Apatow’s Trainwreck (2015).

He married Peggy Craven in 1936 and they had two children. Peggy died in 2011.

ABOVE – A set of Front of House Stills from ‘Saboteur’

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The Angel with the Trumpet 1950


A British adaptation of one of post-war Austria’s most significant films, The Angel With the Trumpet is the powerful, panoramic story of a family’s tribulations from the last decades of the nineteenth century through to the dark days of Nazi rule. Featuring the great dramatic actress Eileen Herlie in her first starring role, this film also stars Basil Sydney, Norman Wooland and Anthony Bushell, who also directed.

When Francis Alt, the head of the famous family of Viennese piano makers, decides to marry socialite Henrietta Stein, his family object due to her Jewish heritage and known dalliance with the Crown Prince Rudolph. When the marriage goes ahead despite their objections the Prince commits suicide, leaving Henrietta a note…

It is the lovely Maria Schell, who dominates the post WWII story. She is a gifted, but impoverished, pianist who marries the head of the great piano-manufacturing family that is the heart of the story. The family is part Jewish and had paid dearly under Nazi persecution. One son in the preceding generation even falls under the spell of the Nazis in the thirties and forties.

ABOVE – Maria Schell who, a few years later, was in ‘So Little Time’ with Marius Goring – a really good film that was, which didn’t do too well at the time – Marius Goring said that it came at the wrong time and audiences didn’t seem interested – maybe a bit later they would have been because it had such a strong storyline

In ‘The Angel with the Trumpet’ the story begins with the Jewish founder of the firm and his aristocratic non-Jewish wife. His wife is close to the Hapsburg court and gets intimately involved with the decline of that unhappy family. The drama begins slowly, but builds momentum as the family saga continues.

A film worth seeing. It is at times riveting and encapsulates Austrian history from pre WWI to post WWII.

The Ernst Lothar novel is available from used book dealers and in some libraries.

This novel was made into a 1948 Austrian film, with Adrienne Gessner filling one of the secondary roles. It was remade in Britain in 1950 – the version above – starring English actors but using much of the Austrian-shot footage.

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The Start of Filming a Classic – and What a surprise

It is 70 years ago as of yesterday, on 30 April 1951 that Richard Todd opened the curtains at his home at Pinkneys Green Nr Maidenhead, before heading off to Denham for the first day of filming for Walt Disney’s ‘The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men’, only to see that the garden and countryside around was covered in a blanket of snow. The Walt Disney organisation had not accounted for such a possibility and things had to be quickly re-adjusted to suit.

The snow went within a few hours but the following cold days were spent at Burnham Beeches with outdoor scenes being shot.

ABOVE – Here we are at Burnham Beeches along with Perce Pearce, Carmen Dillon and Alex Bryce, the Second Unit Film Director on this production. In fact he did virtually all of the outside action scenes for the film at Burnham Beeches

I have to say that I do feel the filming there was a little early because although the trees were in leaf they were not in full leaf as later when they are even more attractive and photographed in Technicolor so well.

It must be said that this film is one of – if not the best – Technicolor film ever

These Scenes being filmed – probably in Denham Film Studios where the site sloped down onto the River Colne – certainly filmed on that river

ABOVE – The large and seemingly antiquated – by today’s standards – Technicolor Camera – but the results were superb – see the top picture of that same scene

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